The decision was made after talks between Indonesia’s environment minister and his Malaysian counterpart in Jakarta.
Malaysia – supported by Singapore – had asked Jakarta to have the meeting earlier in Kuala Lumpur, after haze from forest fires in Sumatra blanketed the neighbors.
Brunei and Thailand, the two other ASEAN member states usually affected by the annual haze problem, will join the meeting – known officially as the Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution.
The five countries have met 14 times before to discuss collective action plans and strategies in tackling forest fires and haze.
Indonesia is also facing growing pressure to ratify the ASEAN Transboundary Haze Pollution Agreement established in 2002, following large-scale forest fires. It is the only ASEAN country that has yet to ratify the agreement.
Malaysia’s Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, G Palanivel, said: “The haze treaty also has to be ratified. I spoke to the prime minister and he has given me a letter to be handed over to the Indonesian president.
“And I have handed over the letter to my counterpart, the environment minister, and he will be handing it over to the Indonesian president.”
While the treaty will take time to be ratified by the Indonesian parliament, the immediate task is to put out the forest fires.
Both Malaysia and Singapore have offered to assist.
Palanivel said: “We have ready assistance, including cloud seeding, our water-bombers, our fire fighters. So if Indonesia and Malaysia can cooperate, then we can control the haze situation quite rapidly.”
Indonesia has said it can still manage the fire-fighting operations on its own as it can mobilize the private sector, if the need arises.
The head of Indonesia’s Task Force, Agung Laksono, said operations in Riau would take up to a month. Agung Laksono, who is also the Coordinating Minister for Welfare, was speaking to the media after chairing a coordinating meeting of the Task Force in Jakarta.
Jakarta has already deployed some 3,000 officers to Riau to fight the fires.
It is also verifying names of companies which allegedly torched their plantations to clear the land.
Earlier, the Environment Ministry had publicized names of companies, including those linked to Malaysia and Singapore. The companies, however, have denied the allegations.
Palanivel said: “There are four Malaysian companies. They said they are zero-burning. They don’t burn – zero burning. Sime Darby is one of them. KLK is another. Then we have two other companies – they all have denied it.”
Indonesia’s Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said: “The number of companies still needs to be verified. There are numerous on the ground where the fire is taking place.”
He added that the forestry ministry and the agriculture ministry have their own data. “And we have ours. At the moment, we are trying to verify the numbers, who they are, and are responsible before we eventually expose them,” the environment minister said. -MD